Bethany first suggested PAT CONROY MONTH!! a few weeks ago, when we were both in the throes of Faulkner. It seemed like a great idea at the time for multiple reasons. First, Pat Conroy is easier than Faulkner. Second, our AP English Challenge book for September is, as all of you know, Lord Jim, a book which few people remember fondly, and Pat Conroy is certainly more interesting than Joseph Conrad. Also, and probably most importantly, Pat Conroy is the author that initially brought the two of us together as bookfriends. Years before there were jokes about AP English, there were jokes about Pat Conroy. I read The Water is Wide for sophomore honors English, and loved it. Bethany said that if I liked that one, I should definitely read The Lords of Discipline, because it’s even better. And she was right (as is customary with book recommendations). The Prince of Tides followed, then The Great Santini. I even bought The Boo, Conroy’s first novel, but could never get into it. Bethany said it was awful, so I figured that it was okay that I didn’t read it. And in reading Pat Conroy’s love letter to books, My Reading Life, this week, I learned that he doesn’t think very highly of it, either. So there you go. No reason to read The Boo.
I just finished My Reading Life, which I kind of loved. At the end, Conroy does get a bit too… Well…. Conroyvian about his love of books and writing and all that, but it’s eloquent, heartfelt verbosity, and that’s how he is, so I’ll give him a pass. That book made me want to go out and read War and Peace and Look Homeward, Angel, two books I’ve indefinitely postponed getting into. Interestingly, I remembered that I own a copy of the latter, but it’s not on my shelf. I assume it’s lost somewhere in the labyrinthine recesses of my mother’s house, which contains a room full of boxes that she hasn’t unpacked from the move. That took place in 2007. My poor mother. More importantly, those poor, neglected books.
What I didn’t mention about my first exposure to Pat Conroy was that after we finished The Water is Wide he came to talk to our high school. He was amazing. Larger than life, and his speaking and his written voices are exactly the same. And he was hilarious. He signed my battered copy of The Water is Wide, “To Jill, In the Love of Books, Pat Conroy.” I still have that one; it has not been lost in the abyss as of yet. And it would break my heart if it were. It is the only book I have that’s been signed personally to me by an author in my presence. I’m sure Conroy does tons of personal appearances, but the one at SI felt special, because he went to Catholic schools off and on over the years and he himself is Catholic. That day we got to miss go see him speak during English class in the old SI theater is still one of the highlights of my high school life. He got himself a fan for life that foggy day in 1992. I’ll forever be true to him, no matter how flowing and adjective filled his prose is. I may mock him a bit more than I used to these days, but it’s a mockery that’s grown out of a true affection and twenty years of reading his words. He was truly the first author to go on my now somewhat substantial list of authors whose books I buy right away in hardcover when I bought Beach Music in 1995, on my first summer vacation from college. I can’t quite remember where I bought it (Super Crown in Pinole? Barnes and Noble in Concord? Waldenbooks at Sun Valley Mall?) but I do remember being so excited he had a new book out at last. I mean it had been a whole two years since I’d read one of his books for the first time. Who could imagine going that long without something new by your favorite author? (I was only eighteen, give me a break…) Little was I to know it would be even longer until his next new novel came out, South of Broad, in 2009. That one I preordered on amazon.com and started reading it right away when I got it despite my upcoming wedding and all the insanity (mostly in my head) that goes with that time in ones life. South of Broad was something of a disappointment; I think that it’s hard for a book someone has waited fifteen years to read to not fail to live up to expectations at least a little. My impression is that the further away Conroy gets from telling stories that are true, the more his power diminishes. I think that’s why he has been focusing more on official non-fiction/memoir writing recently. My Losing Season is generally adored on amazon, and we just read all about his cookbook endeavor and his strange love of mayonnaise.
So anyway, we hope you all enjoy this month dedicated to an author who Bethany and I both have spent more than half of our lives reading. We know he’s not perfect, but that’s what makes him Pat Conroy.